Your child’s first day of practice is around the corner. You bought them their new gym shoes, kicked a ball around with them in the yard, and had the good sportsmanship talk.
Before you know it, the new school year will be here. You’ve stocked up on markers and notebooks, set up the carpool, and promised your child that you won’t embarrass them on the first day.
And in the midst of this back-to-school and new season flurry, you have forgotten about something they may need in order to go to school or play a sport: a physical exam.
Whether your child is gearing up for a summer program, the next school year, or the upcoming athletic season, they may be required to get a school or sports physical.
Here is what you and your child can expect during these appointments:
School-aged children should get regular check-ups — the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends getting one once a year from age 3 to 21 — but there are also certain check-ups that are required by schools.
Also read, “The Back-to-School Checklist
Illinois school physical forms are due no later than October 15th — and individual school districts are permitted to establish their own deadline, meaning some may be earlier.
A school physical has several parts:
Getting shots probably isn’t on your child’s list of favorite activities, but immunizations are critical for keeping them and others safe from potentially life-threatening illnesses. Certain vaccines are also required by the state at specific ages in order for your child to attend school.
Your child won’t need every shot at every check-up. But at some point, they will be required to get vaccinated against:
- Diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and tetanus
- Measles, mumps, and rubella
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
- Invasive Pneumococcal Disease (PCV)
- Varicella (chicken pox)
- Hepatitis B
- Meningococcal disease
There are also optional, recommended vaccines — like those for HPV, COVID-19, and influenza — that your child may be able to get during their check-up.
Your child may be able to receive required and/or recommended vaccines at their well check-up or physical appointment. However, depending on your individual insurance coverage, you may need to receive vaccines through your local health department.
The health history portion of the school physical is exactly what it sounds like. The provider will ask about your child’s current and past:
- Medical conditions and symptoms, such as diabetes, seizures, blood disorders, heart murmurs, or bone and joint problems
- Birth defects
- Alcohol, drug, or tobacco use
- Vision or hearing problems
- Serious injuries or illnesses
- Dental care (including braces, bridges, and plates)
- Developmental delays
This is when they may also ask about family medical history, like if there is a history of sudden death before age 50.
The health history portion of the exam helps the provider get a more complete picture of your child’s health. Learning about family medical history allows the provider to identify if your child may be at high risk for certain diseases.
Physical Exam and Screenings
During the physical exam, your child’s provider will take a look at your child’s height and weight, listen to their heartbeat, check vital signs like blood pressure and pulse, assess their nutrition, and identify signs of potential mental health concerns.
This part of the exam also includes screening your child for diabetes and risk of lead poisoning.
Checking things like weight and heartbeat are simple, yet they provide helpful information about if your child is developing at the right pace, or how different parts of your child’s body are functioning.
Getting blood drawn, urinating into a cup — more of your child’s favorites, right?
Just like vaccines, these tests aren’t fun, but they are important.
While not always required, your child’s provider may recommend lab tests to monitor your child’s cholesterol, test for tuberculosis, detect iron deficiency, or look for kidney problems if they suspect that your child has kidney disease.
Ready to schedule your child’s school or sports physical? Reach out to a Duly Health and Care pediatrician or family medicine provider, or schedule an appointment online.
If you have a young athlete on your hands, they might need a sports physical (also called a preparticipation physical evaluation) in addition to their school physical. These physicals can identify risks for injury or illness, and ensure that your child will be healthy and safe when playing sports.
Sports physicals are often similar to school physicals — your child’s provider will ask about your child’s health history and perform a general physical exam that includes height, weight, and other vital signs. However, sports physicals focus more heavily on aspects of your child’s health that could affect their ability to safely play sports.
The exam may include:
- Screening for heart, neurological, and bone and joint health
- Screening to see if your child may be at a higher risk for heat-related injuries and illnesses
- Nutritional assessment
- Mental health exam
- Education about heat and hydration
- Discussion about concerns unique to female athletes (such as menstruation) or disabled athletes
Children who participate in a school-sponsored athletic program in Illinois are required to get a sports physical every year. (They do not need a separate sports physical in sixth and ninth grades, when school physicals are required.)
The Next Steps
Even if your child isn’t an athlete or they aren’t in a grade where they are required to have a school physical, we recommend that all children get a check-up every year. Seeing their primary care provider regularly is a great opportunity for you to receive helpful insight into how your child is growing and developing, and what to expect as they continue to grow.